Backpacks in School

The use of backpacks in the school systems around the country are coming under attack by the medical community for the increased stress placed upon our children.  In a recent study in the May 1 issue of Spine Journal looked at 1122 schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 18 and the association of backpack use and back pain in adolescents.  The study found that 74% of backpack users reported back pain.  The study goes on to state that those who used backpacks had significantly poorer health, more limited physical functioning, and more bodily pain.  Out of the 1122 backpack users, 689 were females with 555 or 80.9% reporting back pain.  The bottom line is, “If a kid’s back hurts because of his or her backpack, then it’s too heavy.”  Many health professionals agree that a child should carry no more than 10% to 15% of his or her body weight in a backpack.  Back pain is epidemic in the adult population and two other studies found a relationship that adolescents who experienced back pain are at increased risk of experiencing back pain as adults.  In a study presented in June at the annual meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association, researchers from the University of Cincinnati found that posture was affected by backpacks in 80% of subjects tested.  More that 70% of the schoolchildren (grades 4th through 12th) in the study reported that they stoop or bend forward while their backpacks are on.  Nancy Talbott, PT reports that when a child stays in a flexed or bent position, the center of gravity moves forward, and more muscle power is needed to keep upright.  As a result, a child will need to contract his or her muscles, which increases pressure on the discs.  David Skaggs, MD,  a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Southern California, reported a study at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in New Orleans in which 1546 children between the ages of 11 to 14, completed a survey and underwent physical examination and it was found that 97% of the children used backpacks.  Out of this percentage, back pain was associated with heavier backpack weight, younger age, female sex, and a positive screening for scoliosis.  Those children using lockers, a second set of books, and lighter backpacks had less back pain.


Overall, if your child is using a backpack, then the heavier books should be placed nearest to the child’s back and the weight of the backpack should be distributed, the straps should be padded, and the backpack should be carried so that the bottom of the pack is no more than four inches below the waistline to minimize forward lean.  A waist strap also redistributes and balances the weight.  Some schools are working to help correct this problem by putting books on CD-ROM, increasing locker space, and posting homework assignments online.  If your child is complaining of non-specific back pain, their backpack could be the problem.